Nancy Edmonds Hanson
Fireworks and the Fourth of July – they’re a tradition that not even a worldwide pandemic can dismiss. For the 47th consecutive year, Moorheaders and their neighbors are going to enjoy a spectacular community-wide aerial show to celebrate Independence Day, and for the fifth year, the Moorhead Business Association will sponsor it.
But the “Moorhead Proud 5656Oooo Aaaah” is going to be a little different for 2020.
Instead of the usual festive gathering at Alex Nemzek Stadium, this year’s fireworks display – themed “Drive Up, Kick Back, Tune In” – will be launched from Horizon Shores Park on the east side of town. Instead of bleachers full of spectators who come early to dine on food truck cuisine, families will watch from their own back yards or from their cars parked throughout the area. Ground displays will be replaced with extravagant soaring Roman candles and rockets aimed for the very apex of the sky.
And instead of being fully sponsored by the MBA’s business members, this year’s soaring show – reaching new heights of color, sizzle and bang – is seeking community support.
“The tradition continues, but with a twist,” reports MBA executive director Sheri Larson. “Despite the challenges, this will be our biggest show ever!”
The “ooo’s” and “aaah’s” were far from a sure thing, however, when the coronavirus pandemic prompted safe-at-home orders and business closures last March. The MBA office fielded a host of calls asking, “Is it really going to happen this year?”
“Our major sponsors have been generous, as they always are,” says MBA executive director Sheri Larson, citing American Crystal Sugar, Sanford Health, BNSF and Kovash Marine, along with others. “But given the challenges businesses have faced due to COVID-19, it’s not a surprise that overall donations are somewhat down.”
The association is turning to the public to help foot the bill for the annual extravaganza, estimated to cost $40,000. It has set up a Go Fund Me page for donations at www.gofund.me/f/Moorhead-4th.
The state of Minnesota has provided guidance on how to avoid virus transmission and provide the highest degree of personal safety. According to Larson, the guidelines include having spectators remain in their cars throughout the display. “Cars must be parked at least six feet apart if their windows are open,” she explains, “and nothing should be passed from one car to another.” Physical contact should be avoided.
The Twin Cities company Res Pyro, which has organized Moorhead’s displays for many years, is back again this year. Instead of setting up at the Minnesota State University Moorhead stadium, they’ll be launching from a 50-by-50-foot area in the park.
Finding the right site was the first challenge of planning for 2020, Larson says. Drawing the usual crowd to the lawn and bleachers at the stadium was clearly out of the question. The Moorhead Police and Fire Departments met with MBA representatives many times to weigh the pros and cons of suggested alternatives, from Centennial Park to Woodlawn Park. Horizon Park – just south of Horizon Middle School – was their ultimate choice. It won the toss because of easy access to parking on streets and in commercial lots throughout the area, along with the ability to locate the firing zone 450 feet away from all structures.
With the planned display emphasizing height in the sky rather than spectacular ground displays, Larson points out that even more should be able to see this year’s display: “You should be able to see it all the way to Sabin.” Along with parking in the surrounding neighborhoods, carloads are welcome in the lots of Horizon School, the Vista Center, the new MHS Career Center (formerly Sam’s Club), Sanford Clinic, the Anne Carlsen Center and Triumph Lutheran Church. “Lots of people will have a great view from their own yards,” she promises.
The adjusted celebration comes with a few bits of silver lining. The MBA won’t need to recruit its usual corps of volunteers for traffic control and security. Streets won’t be blocked off, though they have cautioned MnDOT about the potential for slow-downs on Interstate 94.
Best of all, a treasured Moorhead tradition will carry on uninterrupted.